What Food Sensitivities Might Mean in the Grand Scheme of Things

This morning, I saw a post in my Facebook feed about yesterday’s article by Rachel Rabkin Peachman in Motherlode (NY Times) titled “Picky Eating in Children Linked to Anxiety, Depression and A.D.H.D.”  This was not the only article that was motivated by yesterday’s Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics article titled “Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating” in which Nancy Zucker, Ph.D., eating disorders specialist, and associate professor, psychology and neuroscience, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C. shares her findings.  There was also a Medline Plus article yesterday titled “Severe ‘Picky Eating’ May Point to Mental health Issues in Kids” and Wall Street Journal article by Sumanthi Reddy titled “What Picky Eating Might Mean for Children Later.” I know this isn’t about postpartum depression (PPD), but as I’ve said before, PPD has its roots earlier in life, which is why I choose to blog about and spread awareness about those roots.  I also want to tackle feelings of guilt and shame felt by mothers over things like picky eaters and food sensitivities. For example, a kid may have food sensitivities that are biological in nature, so there is absolutely zero reason for a mother to feel guilt/shame over the situation.  Sure, you should do what you can to introduce new foods slowly over time (remember, do all things in moderation and you can’t go wrong), but forcing a child to eat something when he is hell bent against it will not help matters one bit.  The approach of “If a child refuses to eat, don’t give him anything to eat and send him to his room; he’ll eat whatever you give him if he is hungry enough” is not the way to go at all, IMO. Dr. Zucker has also indicated that having kids eat processed foods (like chicken nuggets….either the frozen variety or the McDonald’s variety) should not alarm or cause parents to feel guilt/shame, since consistency in texture and taste is important to a child who might be tentative/uncertain overall and especially when it comes to eating.  Some experience sensory overload and become overwhelmed easily when it comes to taking in everything via their senses of smell, vision, hearing….and taste.   These kids have difficulty processing all the stimuli around them and go on sensory overload.  Chicken nuggets aren’t like broccoli.  They’re not bitter little tree lookalikes with little “leaves” and mushy in some cases, hard to chew in other cases, depending on how they are cooked or how fresh they are. In the Medline article, Dr. Zucker states:

They have a stronger sensitivity to the world outside and to how their body feels. That sets them up to have more vivid experiences — more intense food experiences, more intense emotional experiences. None of that is pathological, but it could be a vulnerability for later problems.

You may want to ask yourself whether you are a picky eater (and if so, whether you are also hypersensitive to smell, noise, visual cues and oral textures).  Here are the results of my self examination:

  • Picky eater?  check (for my daughter, not sure if I was once a picky eater, but I don’t believe I am that picky.  I won’t eat everything, and I think that’s absolutely normal)
  • Hypersensitive to smell? check for me (I can smell things that have caused people to liken me to a canine)
  • Hypersensitive to noise? check (I can hear things that have caused people to liken me to a canine; high-pitched grinding of subways to a halt, subtle background noises at work that all my co-workers don’t hear/tune out yet are highly distracting and irritating to me)
  • Hypersensitive to visual cues? check (for my daughter; whereas, I have extremely myopic vision, so I can’t say this applies to me; my sense of smell and hearing more than make up my lack of vision)
  • Hypersensitive to oral textures? check (for my daughter; I’m not sure if I was like this as a kid)

While a distaste for broccoli is not indicative of an issue since it’s fairly common for kids to refuse to eat it (it’s like beer and some other drinks and foods that take a few tries before you acquire a taste for it), when food aversions and smells becomes too overwhelming for a child as to prevent him from being able to tolerate eating out altogether, that’s when you know you have a case of extreme sensitivity for which parents should seek professional help (as the study has found a greater likelihood of depression or social anxiety later in life).  When a child has a limited number of foods he/she likes and can tolerate being exposed to other foods without any issues, that’s when there is a moderate sensitivity to food.  Moderately picky eaters usually broaden their palate over time, much like my daughter is doing slowly but surely, much to my relief!  Some children have a limited diet due to physical reasons such as acid reflux, which is not easy to figure out when a baby experiences this (from drinking milk and then after an intro to solid foods).  It’s not like the baby can tell you that she has acid reflux or feels sick drinking or eating certain things.  Hence, the trial and error and much anxiety and concern that ensue….not fun in the least! From the Motherlode article:

[Picky] eaters are not simply stubborn or tyrannical children whose parents have given in to their culinary whims. Rather, the research reveals that picky eaters have a heightened sensitivity to the world that is innate. “Their sensory experience is more intense in the areas of taste, texture and visual cues. And their internal experience may be more intense, so they have stronger feelings,” said Dr. Zucker, who is also director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders. “They’re sensitive kids who may be anxious or a little depressed; so cutting up fruits into funny shapes is not going to do the trick for these kids.”


“It is a reminder that food is not a stand-alone issue and that it plays a role in the big picture of development,” said Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and co-author of “Food Fights: Winning the nutritional challenges of parenthood armed with insight, humor, and a bottle of ketchup.” “How kids behave around food relates to how they interact with the world in general. It doesn’t surprise me that some kids who are really tentative around food might be really tentative in life.”

I am so glad the research was performed and results shared across major news outlets like the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. and subsequently shared all over social media.  The information is very critical and can make a hugely beneficial impact to parents struggling with their kids’ tastes for food know when to get help versus when to chalk up as something kids will grow out of as their palates broaden and become “more sophisticated.”  Per the Motherlode article, approximately 20% of children are picky eaters, so you can see it’s a fairly common challenge faced by parents.  And per Dr. Zucker, there is a correlation between picky eating and mental health challenges down the road, like depression and/or anxiety.

Paving the Way for Emotional Health In Teen Girls

Since its release, the movie “Inside Out” has helped put emotional health on the front burner of discussions and will hopefully make it a lot easier for families to talk about emotions on a regular basis.  This movie was, quite simply, brilliant in going somewhere no other film for children has ever gone (at least none that I’m aware).  Why?  Cuz emotions and mental health are topics that people have historically tiptoed about as if they were walking on eggshells.  It’s time we extracted our heads from out of the hole of ignorance, taboo and stigma.  There ain’t nothin’ about emotions and mental health that should warrant keeping our heads buried like that.  Nothin’ at all……….

I sincerely believe that “Inside Out” can be instrumental in helping children to better understand their emotions and realize that feeling sad is just as critical as feeling happy, it’s NORMAL to feel negative emotions like sadness and anger, and all emotions should be expressed rather than suppressed.  A good way to express/release/process your emotions is to talk about them or even write about them.

I’ve found that many adults have enough challenges in understanding/coping with/expressing/releasing/processing their own emotions, let alone help their children understand/cope/express/release/process theirs.  And thus the critical need for resources from experienced professionals that are abundantly available out there.  You just need to know how to find them.

I have mentioned one invaluable resource for girls in previous posts, and I want to bring it up again today.  It’s Girls Leadership.  Although the focus of my blog is on maternal mental health and mothers were all young girls at one point–all too many of whom have faced issues early in life that pave the way to the adults they are today–the information within the Girls Leadership articles below applies to boys as well.  If you are a parent of a girl, read through the website’s posts on a wide variety of topics, including confidence, identity, body image, books, school, friendships, role models, and conflict.  What a difference it would’ve made to me while growing up if such resources had been available to my mother, if I had had a better relationship with my mother, if I had had a network of support, and if I had had a mentor in my life. Speaking of mentor, “How to Find a Mentor” by Joanne Wilson on July 2, 2015 is a must read! The Girls Leadership posts I ran across in the past couple of weeks are:

  1. Emotional Intelligence Workout: respecting/expressing your feelings critical to development of emotional intelligence (EI)
  2. Removing the Stigma: understanding/talking about /seeking help for mental illness, which applies to 11% of teenagers by the time they hit 18; girls more susceptible than boys
  3. A Powerful New Tool for Girls’ Courage & Confidence: Self-Compassion: practicing mindfulness and self-compassion rather than self-destructive thinking

I want to bring particular attention to the 3rd post because it highlights issues all too many girls face, which are explained in such an on-point fashion in this post the likes of which I have not seen anywhere else to date:

  • tendency to dwell / fixate on their problems rather than realize/following through on solutions
  • tendency to feel more shame / self hatred than boys
  • tendency to feel the need to “fit in” and they are thus more easily influenced by social media, which appeal to girls more than boys.  Social media sites, such as Instagram and Facebook (which I will not allow my daughter to access until she can drive), are just another way to make girls feel more isolated and bad about themselves because these sites, for the most part, only provide glimpses of the positive moments in other people’s lives.  Let me illustrate. My Facebook circle is a rather small one compared to other people’s circles.  Of this circle less than 50% are considered active (i.e., log on, post, like and comment at least a few times a week).  Of my active Facebook friends, only about 5% post things that are truly accurate reflections of what’s going on in their minds and lives….like me.  I say what’s on my mind without sugar coating anything.  Of the remaining 95% or so of the active posters, you’ll see the accomplishments, smiling faces, and all is fine-and-dandy posts / pictures (with a couple people doing it more regularly than others).  It’s these kinds of posts that can influence young girls–ones with the tendency to dwell/fixate on problems, feel bad about themselves, and feel like the one priority in life is fitting in/belonging–into comparing themselves with others and believing that everyone else is living much better and happier lives.  Hence, the “why me, my life sucks” mindsets.  These sites are just as anti-social as they are “social” because rather than encouraging face-to-face interactions, they make you believe that interaction limited to the Internet is all you need to be “social.”

You may wonder how all this has anything to do with postpartum depression (PPD).  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years.

The #1 Killer of Teen Girls Worldwide

I was motivated to write this blog post tonight due to a Telegraph article that appeared in my Facebook feed today written by Nisha Lilia Diu and titled: “Suicide is now the biggest killer of teenage girls worldwide. Here’s why.”

That headline shocked me.  And it is shocking a lot of people, even those firmly entrenched in the fields of global women’s rights.  This headline should shock everyone.  It should shock people into trying to do something to turn those statistics around.

Yes, suicide is now the #1 killer of girls/young women between the ages of 15 and 19.  Suicide has overtaken maternal mortality as the #1 killer of young women in the world….a statistic buried–yes, buried–in the latest World Health Organisation report.  This information does not deserve to be buried.  It needs to be written about, talked about and acted upon!  I am glad Nisha wrote this Telegraph article!  In the article, you’ll see the alarming numbers of suicides in girls ages 15-19 in the different regions of the world.

Teen girls ages 15-19 face, regardless of location:

  • hormone changes
  • emotional changes (e.g., increase in vulnerability and decline in self confidence)
  • behavior changes (e.g., attracting mate, sex drive, competition)
  • identity issues (e.g., acceptance among peers, desire to fit in, peer pressure)

Add to that the following disadvantages society places on women, including:

  • societal expectations
  • disempowerment
  • marginalization

Add to that the use of social media throughout much of the world.  I’ve blogged in the past about it, but I will sum up the basics of the detrimental impact social media can have on emotionally vulnerable teen girls.  The malicious words of a complete stranger, aka troll, that confirm an emotionally vulnerable teenager’s feelings (i.e., self hate, thoughts of suicide) by saying things like “Yeah, you’re ugly alright. Why don’t you just go kill yourself.”  These are the trolls I wish more than anything in the world–with the exception of the complete eradication of mental health stigma, terrorism, misogny and people killing each other–can be located and zapped from existence.  Like in a video game.  These haters are a danger to others and need to be stopped.

I need to mention the tragic story of 12 year old Izzy, which I learned about from this blog post last week.  While we do not know what exactly led to her being publicly shamed online by her father after he hacked her hair, and it is unlikely that the video alone led to her jumping out of a car and off a bridge to her death, what I do know is that ANY teen acting out (e.g., doing drugs, rebellious behavior, locking themselves in their rooms) needs help, NOT punishment or public shaming.  FULL STOP.

As in so many cases you will read about in the news of teens taking their own lives, there may have been no signs that they were distressed to the point that they felt they had to end their lives to escape the pain with which they are struggling.  Today, I came across this touching obituary written by the parents of Clay Shephard in North Carolina, whose son was smiling despite what was driving his drug addictions. There was no indication whatsoever that he was going to take his own life.  Included in the obituary were these words that sound very much like my post about a fellow alum’s son’s sudden tragic passing a few months ago:

To all parents, pay attention to your children and the world that revolves around them – even when the surface is calm, the water may be turbulent just beneath.

You may wonder how all this has anything to do with postpartum depression (PPD).  It’s important to remember that many cases of depression surface during the teenage years and follow you throughout life.  One of the primary risk factors of PPD is a history of depression. I delve into relevant statistics and risk factors in my book. And you may be interested in checking out my prior posts relating to teenage years.

It’s with knowledge that there is any hope of REDUCING STIGMA AND REDUCING DEPRESSION!

Let’s Face It, Your Kids Can’t Avoid Bullies and Mean Kids – But You Can Help Them Develop Problem Solving Skills

*** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events ***

I am so tired of feeling devastated, seeing the constant posts of children taking their own lives.  Reading about teen suicides that seem to be occurring more and more frequently is truly heartbreaking.

There’s 11 year old Michael Morones who was bullied (and is now in a persistent vegetative state from hanging himself) for being a My Little Pony fan.  Every time I see his beautiful face on my Facebook feed, I just want to break down and cry.

Then there’s Ashley Payton who was driven to bullycide on February 5, 2014,  just shy of her 16th birthday.  A girl who was so beautiful and yet was convinced she wasn’t.  Self esteem issues seemingly at play here, as is at the heart of all too many other teen-related issues like eating disorders (anorexia/bulimia), cutting, drugs, and depression….just to name a few.

And finally, there’s the article in the Clarion Ledger dated April 12, 2014 titled “Anti-bullying Laws Fail to Stem Youth Suicide” by Emily Le Coz, which is what motivated me to write this post today.  The article reveals frightening statistics of the numbers of youth suicides each year and how bullying is most often cited as the root of the epidemic, despite anti-bullying laws in place in most states.  The article mentions 15-year-old Lyndsey Taylor Aust, bullied for merely having acnie, was but one of THREE suicides in her school within ONE MONTH period (this is what is referred to as a “contagion effect”).

Sure, schools have some form of anti-bullying policy in place, but I have yet to hear about a school that has an effective one.  For one thing, instead of an environment of transparency in schools, you have one that is controlled by fear that stems from the stigma of depression and suicide. Instead of transparency and a culture that TRULY cares about the welfare of students, schools fear doing anything to change the negative culture, hence the sweeping of depression, suicide and bullying under the rug.  There is a price to pay for such willful ignorance.  Look at what happened at Scott County Central High School in Mississippi….three suicides in ONE MONTH.

The fact of the matter is our children are feeling hopeless and helpless enough to end their own precious lives.  There have been arguments that bullying is not necessarily the sole and direct cause of all youth suicides.  That it might just be “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Well, there is ABSOLUTELY a correlation between victims of bullying and suicidal thoughts and attempts, according to a study published in the March 2014 edition of JAMA Pediatrics.  You can also review the booklet posted over on the CDC website titled The Relationship Between Bullying & Suicide.  Both parents and educators should familiarize themselves with this information.

If there are self esteem issues that are leading toward changes in behavior/sleep/eating, depression should be looked at and treated. In a number of recent cases I’ve read about recently, I noticed that parents indicated there was absolutely no sign whatsoever that anything was out of the ordinary.  Their children seemed like their happy, normal selves.  I don’t know any of these families’ situations, but there is a greater tendency to bully or be bullied in the following situations in which a stable support system is lacking:

  1. Greater numbers of single parents than ever before
  2. Dual-career parents who are busy working long hours at full-time jobs and spending less time at home with the kids and providing positive behavior role modeling, interaction, and simply listening opportunities
  3. Risk factors for depression and other mental health issues, like eating disorders, self esteem issues, family history of mental illness, extreme poverty, emotional/physical abuse, lack of nurturing, etc.

I am not in any way blaming any parents whose children took their own lives.  I’m imploring ALL parents to be more in tune with their children. If there is an underlying mental health issue, then PLEASE get help for them.  If you see that there are changes in demeanor, behavior, diet, and sleep, please observe, talk to and listen….REALLY LISTEN TO WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY AND REALLY OBSERVE THEIR BEHAVIOR AND MANNERISMS CLOSELY.  If they refuse to open up to you, please try to get them a neutral third party–someone experienced with teen issues and depression, like a family counselor–to talk to them.  Put aside any feelings of shame or fear from the stigma of mental illness.

If you are of the camp of parents who believes the best way your children will learn to adapt to and survive in this world is by doing it with very little to no guidance from you, I implore you to put aside any feelings you may have that, since you toughed it up and lasted through mean kids and got through tough times in school, your child can too.  Don’t think for one second that what you went through growing up back in the 60s, 70s or 80s is the same as growing up today in the 21st century when kids are heavy users of social media and can be cyberbullied day and night via texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, and online forums in which teens “hang out” in an often anonymous fashion.  Anonymity affords cyberbullies/trolls access to an easy–albeit even more cowardly than in-person bullying–means to harass, intimidate and taunt in a public forum, and gives others to join in/gang up to make an emotionally vulnerable young individual miserable.  And put aside the belief that it’s impossible for them to ever have any mental health issues because “depression just doesn’t happen to anyone in my household; I wouldn’t allow them to be weak like that.”

In these cases–since we all know that middle and high schools are a breeding ground for kids undergoing hormone changes who, as part of the socialization process that goes with growing up, try to assert themselves in inappropriate ways–we need to ensure our children are prepared.  I’m  not saying we need to be like the helicopter parents that are so oft criticized in parenting articles, and solve all our kids’ problems so we can keep them out of harm’s way.  No, not at all.  I’m saying that we need to provide guidance to our children.  After all, that’s what parents do.  We use our own experiences and wisdom gained from living and learning….and from our own parents.  From the time our children are toddlers, we teach/coach/guide our children to feed themselves, go potty themselves, talk, stand up, walk, change themselves, brush their teeth, behave appropriate/use inside voices in public spaces…and so on.

I can’t help but view a school as one huge boxing ring within which kids are forced to demonstrate their survival skills.  Because school ends up being where kids spend most of their time every day of the school year, it’s not unreasonable for me to say that every school district should help kids with training on how to cope with mean kids.  In fact, I fervently believe schools should be mandated to add to their curriculum–for first grade all the way through twelfth grade–a year long training on social skills.

It’s one thing that schools observe a Week of Kindness every October.  That’s only five days out of a 183-day school year.   Schools will generally have a mission that includes words like emotional wellness, appreciation of diversity, fostering respect.  But let’s face it, since we can’t even get the majority of schools in this country to deal with bullying effectively, the responsibility for teaching our kids coping skills rests on parents.

It is inevitable that there are mean kids in every school.  What we need to focus on is how to provide our children with guidance on how to cope with mean kids.  It is crucial that parents teach their children to adapt to and survive in this world by nurturing, guidance, and simply being there for them.  Providing guidance is not the same thing as making things easier for our kids and fixing all their issues so down the road they have no problem solving skills of their own. I’m talking about helping our children develop skills they need to fix their own problems. Self esteem is a huge issue for all too many teens. Not every teen is going to know how to let mean behavior slide like it took me years to learn how to do myself.

Resources I would like to recommend for both parents and educators (I am early in my research, so more to come in future blog posts):

What I Would Tell My 7th Grade Self

Inspired by the post titled “To My 7th Grade Self” at the blog ronkempmusic.

Just last week (and believe me, it had nothing to do with the post that inspired me because I only read it yesterday– but it further ignited my desire to blog about what I would say to my 7th grade self, if only I could)– I caught myself telling a colleague: “If only I could go back to when I was in junior high and react/behave like my 40-something self.  Things would’ve been so different.  I would’ve given the kids in my school a piece of my mind.  I would’ve reacted/behaved in a ‘I won’t take this crap from no one’ attitude.”

Yes, if only there WERE only such a thing as time travel!

180px-StrangeAtmosphereIf there WERE such a thing, then I would go straight back to 7th grade, when the worst period of my life began and went on for a good six years until I graduated high school.  I hated that school.  My classmates treated me like I was beneath them.  I was, after all, completely lacking in self esteem, shy as all hell, unattractive, poorly dressed, unpopular, friendless and last but not least….the only Chinese girl in a class of approximately 350 students.  And boy, it was the slowest, most painful six years of my life!  If it weren’t for my Biology teacher that I befriended in 10th grade, I would’ve literally been friendless in that entire high school system.  Note: I’m talking about friendships with classmates, not friendships outside of school, which I did have.  I had friends from my Chinese school, Chinese teen club, and Chinese church.  I found making friends in my extremely caucasian–and very racist– high school quite an exercise in futility.

Back then, I HATED my life.  HATED it with every ounce of my being.  I just wanted to drop off the face of the earth.  I was lonely.  I felt like life had no purpose if I was going to be such an outcast and people who weren’t of the same ethnicity were going to be so racist toward me.  That was not a battle that, back then, I had any energy or interest in fighting.  It didn’t help that my parents and I fought all the time, and my brother and I fought all the time.

My friends and blog followers know me to have taken up the cause of not only postpartum depression advocacy, but anti-bullying advocacy as well.  As you can see, the roots of my anti-bullying advocacy date back to my 7th grade to 12th grade years.  Back then–in the late 70s, early 80s– there was no Internet, and hence, there was no such thing as cyberbullying when I was in school….and thank goodness for that!   I wasn’t bullied to the extent that kids today are bullied.  Kids said mean things to me due to my race and appearance, and no one made any attempts to be friends with me.  Didn’t help that I had no friends going into the school because I was new to the area, having just moved there in time for the start of junior high school.  Talk about LOUSY timing!

Having no Internet had its pluses and its minuses.  What minuses?  Well, for one thing, where did a teen turn for help in getting through the angst and feeling like no one understands them and what they are going through?  Going to parents wasn’t really an option, in general, for most teens….and it still isn’t really an option, in general, today.  Why?  In my case, and in the case of many first-generation-born-in-the U.S. kids, the previous generation was born and raised in a different country with different cultural standards, perspectives and practices.  As in the case of my parents, they had it much tougher than we did.  Hence, there is a gap between their experiences and yours….and never the twain shall meet.  Even if the prior generation were born here, there is STILL a generation gap.  And all too often, there are plenty of challenges due to that gap….and never the twain shall meet.

Friends with whom you trust your feelings can serve as an outlet, but I didn’t have any close enough for me to confide in.  I pretty much kept it all to myself, feeling hopeless, lost and desperate to the point that I felt like ending it all quite a number of times–but thankfully was too afraid to carry it out–with frequent lashing out at my parents for not understanding and only making things worse for me.  The huge fights we used to get into tore a huge hole in our relationship that took until after I had my own child to mend.

A non-judgmental ear and someone with experience in providing guidance/mentoring is what is needed, and usually you would find that in the form of a guidance counselor or a mental healthcare professional.  The guidance counselor in my school was absolutely of NO help, and I went to a psychiatrist once, but I had zero patience with talking to someone who looked like they didn’t really care and couldn’t make a difference.  So I never went back.

Now, getting to what I would tell my 7th grade self.  Here is what I would say:

I know you are hating life right now, but please hang on.  I know you will find it hard to believe  that you will learn to really enjoy life.  It WILL have meaning.  You will adopt a work hard, play hard, live for the day attitude.  You will grab life by the horns, determined to explore different activities, fall in love with traveling and sailing, have a family, and experience life to the fullest.

Right now, you may feel like life has no purpose, that you’d be better off not existing because then you would no longer have to endure the loneliness and each day of the tortuously slow and miserable school year for the next 6  years.  You may feel like you’re the only one who is having family challenges, but believe me, you are far from alone in that area!  So many kids have dysfunctional families.  Some are able to mend their relationships with their parents and/or siblings down the road.  Others aren’t so fortunate.  You will be able to have a much healthier relationship with your parents once you get married and have a child of your own.

I promise you that, even though you don’t feel as if you have any talents, you do!  You will find that your strength is writing, even though you will hate writing papers in high school.  You will find, with time, that you will sing in choirs for the next dozen years….all through high school, college and even in New York City choirs after you start working in New York City.  You will spend six weeks on a trip of your life in Taiwan, after which you will come back a changed person.  On that trip, you will find that you have the ability to make friends easily with anyone.  You will have a family, and in the process, have a life-changing experience that will result in your becoming a published author and blogger.  You will figure out that your purpose is to take your own personal experiences of bullying, lack of guidance/mentoring in school, and motherhood to help others.  To help others NOT to have to suffer the way you did.

You are NOT ALONE in your teen experiences.  Most teens go through what is referred to as teen angst that is the result of the hormonal changes that come with puberty.  These changes, in turn, cause emotional changes that impact behavior and even ways of thinking.  Yes, you will experiences feelings of pain and hopelessness like none other you’ve experienced to date.  You have NOT had enough life experience to develop coping skills and perspective on things that you will have after you have first gone through a number of challenges that will cross your path.  These challenges may seem unnecessary to you and only serve to make life harder for you right now, but in actuality, they will serve to make you a stronger individual.

You, my dear, are a SURVIVOR.  Believe me, things DO get better.

If only there WERE such a thing as time travel.   I wish it were possible to tell my 7th grade self ALL that, to spare the young version of me the pain that I had to suffer.  But….as Ronkempmusic blog post points out:

There are young people, right now!, right under our noses who need to hear what we would tell our like-aged self if we could…..And, more than anything else, they need to be taught that there’s nothing in the world more powerful than love, but it must start with self love……Since we can’t go back in time and teach our own younger selves, the next best thing is to pass it on to today’s youth.

This is EXACTLY what I’ve been doing lately.  Instead of merely wishing I could travel back in time to try to change the path my 7th grade self ultimately takes, I am paying it forward with kids who need the help I never got when I was growing up.  One teen resource that is part of a growing anti-bullying movement is the Stand for the Silent closed group on Facebook (more on this in an upcoming post), which has over 33,000 members from around the globe.  I joined this group a few months ago to help provide an encouraging word or two and lend a non-judgmental ear to the teens that reach out for support and encouragement.  I am now regularly commenting (for as much as time will allow) on posts others in the group–mostly teens–leave.  My goal, like many of the other members in the group, is to be there for someone, much in the way I wish someone had been there for me…in my most angst-ridden moments that started when I was in 7th grade and didn’t ease up until I went off to college.

Finding My Tribe

I know, I know….it’s been well over a month since my last blog post….the longest pause from blogging since I started this blog over 4 years ago.

I’ve recently mentioned that, as time goes on, I feel like I am losing momentum when it comes to writing blog posts.  After a while, you just feel like you’re posting the same ol’ stuff over and over again.  I can only blog so much about my  postpartum depression (PPD) experience and what I learned from my road to motherhood…. without sounding like a broken record.  I still look for media developments that give me hope that things are starting to change with regard to public awareness, as well as research that sheds new light on postpartum mood disorders.  My recent attendance at the annual Postpartum Support International (PSI) conference has inspired me to write this post.

Let me just begin with the fact that– despite the fact that I look Chinese– I act and speak very American.   I’d readily have a conversation in Mandarin with someone from China or Taiwan, and then just as readily turn around and speak to the caucasian person next to me with zero hint of being of Chinese descent (and not even of NJ residency, either, or so I’ve been told).  Standing next to an Asian woman from China or Taiwan, I am painfully aware of how different I am from them.  I am much darker skinned and a heck of a lot heavier.  Growing up, I was always described by my parents’ friends and relatives as “healthy looking” or “sturdy” via a specific word in Chinese.  That’s not really meant to be a compliment or anything.  Just a nicer way of putting the fact that I was “big.”  Funny thing is, when I was a teen (and compared to how I am now), I appeared frail and was always getting sick.  At one point, I considered becoming bulimic (forcing myself to throw up after eating so I could be slimmer), but luckily only tried it once.  It was gross.

Also, unlike so many Asians I know–those born in the states and those born overseas– I’m not reserved or shy with letting people know how I truly feel about something.  I say what’s on my mind.  There’s no holding my thoughts back and I’m finding that, as I get older, my filtering mechanisms don’t work as effectively as they used to!  I mean, c’mon, I blog and wrote a book about my PPD experience, for crying out loud.  I wasn’t like this all my life. It’s more of a recent development that began with my PPD recovery and peaked this past year.

I’ve gotten tired of doing something just in the past year.  What is it, you ask?  Well, I have stopped feeling bad about not being able to make friends with Chinese women (from overseas) whose daughters are about my daughter’s age who are completely the opposite from my daughter in that they look and behave like they’re from overseas.  They speak Mandarin fluently, not to mention are already competitive and driven to succeed.  I get this vibe from these mothers that make me feel like I am on a completely different wavelength (or planet, even) from them.  I carry myself differently from them, speak differently, look different, and see things through a different lens than they do.  Doesn’t help that I feel like a football player next to them….all big boned and “sturdy” looking.  Ha!

All my life I have been looking for a group with which I could readily identify.  Sure, I get along with people easily, in general, but that’s not something I found easy to do until very recently.  When I was a teenager, I didn’t fit in with the rest of my caucasian class of approximately 350 students.  Nor did I fit in with the kids in my Chinese church.  I fit in more with my Chinese teen club because these were kids who were about the same age as me and who, like me, grew up in very caucasian environments as a Chinese American.  But I still didn’t closely identify with any of them. Nothing really changed in college.  Although there were Asian clubs at my alma mater and throughout the Five College area that my alma mater happened to be a part of, as well as at Columbia University and NYU (since I had friends at both those schools), I still didn’t really feel like I truly fit in with anyone in those clubs.  I learned that–we could be Asian-looking on the outside–but that doesn’t matter.  As far as women are concerned, the claws will come out and their lips will flap to turn others against you, and gullible guys (and women) who don’t know any better will listen to them.

And the working world in the Tri-state area hasn’t been that much better.  At work, it’s non-stop work, work, work.  In this day and age, the environment is one of high stress and very little time to have the opportunity to develop friendships with any co-workers.  Sure, I was part of a determined group that started up the very first Asian employee network in the NY metro area for our company, and I’ve made a good number of friends from my involvement with this network for many years.  But again, there was no meaningful bond.

And I won’t even go into detail about my ‘hood because I’ve blogged about this before, and let’s just say that I’ve found it hard to fit in here as well.  I always feel like I’m on a different wavelength with the majority of people living in my immediate area….perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am one of the few mothers that went right back to work promptly after my 3-month maternity leave was up.  Doesn’t help that–like I’ve said previously–I was raised by parents who never really mingled with neighbors or relied on them for anything.  I know I have the ability to change that tradition, but honestly, it’s hard when you work all day long and by the time you get home, it’s only a few hours before you gear up to start the cycle all over again the next morning.  It’s also hard to get beyond the feeling that you are just not as great as parenting as they all are…these mothers who seemed to lead perfect maternal lives, keeping perfect homes, cooking and baking for their families, carpooling with other neighbors’ kids to/from school each day, attending their kids’ soccer matches, etc.  O-M-G.  I’ve been having a hard enough time just scraping by–having emerged from my PPD experience back in 2006–in taking turns with the hubs in rushing off in a panic to drop the kid off  at before care each morning, coming home from work late everyday and trying to scrape a meal together for all of us before it’s time to put the kid to bed.

fence_ISLI refer to my predicament I’ve found myself in all my life as being on a fence.   A fence between people of different wavelengths…not really  fitting in with one particular group or another. Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had good friends for many years, but there was always some invisible barrier preventing me from truly feeling like I was part of a cohesive group, which because of a common bond, that people automatically identify themselves a part of.  In other words, a tribe.  What is a tribe?  Dictionary.com defines it as “any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.”

I’ve been a member of PSI since 2006 and have attended a number of PSI annual conferences to network with and pick up the latest information from subject matter experts. Here’s an excerpt out of my book:

It was at my first Postpartum Support International conference that I felt a sense of belonging, understanding of the pain I’d experienced, and validation that I wasn’t the only one who had suffered such an experience. I finally found a group with whom I shared the common bond of wanting to become more knowledgeable about PPD and wanting to help other women. I felt comfortable and comforted being in their midst. The attendees were, for the most part, PPD survivors who became impassioned enough about the subject to become MDs, PhDs, and social workers who treat women with PPD.

It wasn’t until this past conference that I just attended in Minneapolis that it dawned on me that….hey, wait a second, I think I’ve found my tribe!  I’ve always felt like I shared a common bond with the amazing ladies that are members of PSI, but I have to say I’ve never felt such a natural bond with people from different parts of the country and with all different personalities and backgrounds–than I felt at the PSI conference last week.  I felt incredibly comfortable and at home, despite the fact that I was in a city I’ve never been to (and had never previously thought of visiting).  Being with this group of women helped me to feel like I was at home.

Most of us are survivors of a postpartum mood disorder.  Most have dedicated their lives to supporting women from a research and/or support basis as social workers, lactation consultants, midwives, doulas, therapists, and founders of PPD support organizations in their local communities.  I am a PPD survivor, blogger and book author who shares their desire to spread awareness about postpartum mood disorders and providing mothers with the support they need during the postpartum period.  I’d like to do more, but I just haven’t figured out what exactly yet.

These ladies are caring, dedicated, down to earth, and amazing.   They are far from catty, competitive and superficial–attributes I remember all too well among fellow students and even among colleagues at work.  It felt good and natural to be with them, and I must say that I look up to each and every one of them.  I have so much respect and admiration for all of them.  They make me realize I have certain shortcomings that prevent me from doing what they do each and every day, working directly with women who need help.  They inspire me to want to do more for mothers out there!

I had such a great time in those 2 short days I spent at the conference, and so looking forward to seeing them all again at next year’s conference at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill!

A Must Read: Emily Bazelon’s “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy”

Well, I am at a point in which I’ve got so many ideas, but not enough time to post anything.  Until, that is, I spotted in my Facebook news feed this morning the New York Times article by John Schwartz titled “Words That Hurt and Kill: Lessons for Society From Bullying and Its Psychic Toll” about Emily Bazelon’s book titled “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.”

As the title of this book suggests, the author touches on bullying–a far-from-new-phenomenon–and the importance of empathy,  defeating the culture of bullying by acknowledging its complexity, and encouraging bystanders to be upstanders (those who stand up for victims).  Laws alone will NOT prevent bullying from occurring.  I hear all the time the lament that “Well, I don’t understand why everyone is making a big deal out of bullying.  Bullying has been around forever.  I grew up with bullying.  My parents grew up with bullying.  Back then, we just dealt with it.  Nowadays, kids don’t seem to want or know how to deal with it.  Instead, they’re copping out by killing themselves.”

Well, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, don’t forget that we are now in the age of social media.  Back when I was a kid, there was NO social media.   Heck, there weren’t even cell phones.  With text messaging, Youtube videos, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole host of sites you don’t even want to know about but are popular among teens, the impact of bullying can be extremely devastating to a young person who hasn’t mastered coping, self care and real-world survival skills, may be lacking in self esteem,  and may not get much in the way of support and encouragement from family members and friends.  The bar has been raised in terms of the extent of cruelty that individuals are capable of carrying out because these are no longer face to face confrontations.  Take, for example, trolls.  We have all witnessed at least one troll in action in our interactions online.  Usually, it’s in the form of a nonsensical and completely outrageous and completely off-tangent remark that is filled with hate.  You wouldn’t normally see these comments spoken to someone in person, right?    Yes, it’s so much easier to be cruel online than it is in person.

In terms of the in-person bullying, the isolation tactics and backstabbing of cliquey girls, the racist remarks, the physical intimidation tactics, the verbal intimidation tactics….these still occur in school.  If schools and home life are anything like what I experienced back when I was a teenager–i.e., lack of school counselor support and awareness on the part of school staff, lack of support at home, lack of upstanders, lack of empathy–these behaviors (with or without the social media) can result in a very detrimental experience for the bullied child.  I believe depression rates are higher now than they’ve ever been before.  Maybe because more people are speaking up about their experiences and with the aid of social media, news and information on bullying incidents are much more accessible to everyone than ever before, there is the perception that depression rates are higher.  At the same time, access to mental healthcare services in this country is still so sadly lacking.  And then you have the extreme situations, like Columbine and Virginia Tech, in which the bullied exact their revenge.  I don’t remember incidents like those growing up.  Nope, I don’t.

Ms. Bazelon touches on some points that I have previously touched upon:

  • Some individuals are more resilient (via a combination of genetics and environmental factors) and will tend to come out of bullying and cyberbullying incidents much less scathed than those who are more susceptible to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.  It would be nice if we can figure out just which students fall into each bucket to increase the likelihood of preventing situations from developing and/or getting out of hand.
  • It was only in the past decade that states put the first anti-bullying laws in place, in the aftermath of Columbine, Phoebe Prince’s bullycide (MA), Tyler Clementi’s bullycide (NJ).
  • There seems to be a tendency to label non-bullying behaviors as bullying.  In other words, people are using the word “bullying” so much that this overuse is diluting true acts of bullying.  We need to stop overusing the word because it is not helping matters.

Ms. Bazelon is clearly objective in her presentation of situations she writes about in her book, even as far as showing what I refer to as a neutral take for the sake of presenting the science behind teenage behavior (i.e., the part of the brain that manages impulsiveness and judgment, referred to as the frontal lobe, is not fully developed as of yet) and why the punishment of teenagers is meted out in juvenile rather than adult terms.  Though that is far from an excuse for certain atrocious behaviors that bullying can all too often entail (and believe me, when I read about some of these bullying cases, I wish for every last person that has anything to do with a child’s bullycide to be punished to the FULLEST extent of the law), as they become adults and as long as they are provided counseling (instead of jail time), bullies can see the error of their ways and shed their bullying selves completely.  Some bullies have even gone as far as becoming anti-bullying activists with a mission to speak to schools around the country.

This book needs to be read by not just middle and high school staff, but by all parents.  I fervently believe as many people as possible should read it so there is a widespread understand of the culture of bullying, how to prevent it, how to support the victims, and how to inspire bystanders to become upstanders.

The article leave us with this nugget to chew on as we look at the road before us.  A road in which we need minds to come together to figure out how we need to handle bullying, given all the complexities Ms. Bazelon mentions in her book:

“Ultimately, Ms. Bazelon wisely warns us, we still have to try to let kids be kids.  [Otherwise] ‘We risk raising kids who don’t know how to solve problems on their own, withstand adversity or bounce back from the harsh trials life inevitably brings.’ And so, she says with a sigh: ‘It’s a tricky balance to strike, the line between protecting kids and policing them. But we have to keep trying to find it.’”

Please click here and here to previous blog posts for more links on previous posts relating to teen angst, depression, and bullying…and why I write about it so much on this postpartum depression blog.